Shootout At The Sheriff's Dept.
Seven veterans and one outsider agree that the department is a mess, and they're running to clean it up.
Thursday, February 14, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: Mike Kanalakis has money, a plan and the support of the deputies. Lonnie Heffington has administrative experience and South County cred. One of them is likely to end up Sheriff.
Monterey County sheriff''s deputies expected big changes in 1998, when Sheriff Gordon Sonné, then a sheriff''s investigator without administrative experience, defeated incumbent Norm Hicks. The struggling department believed Sonné''s election signaled the end of an era of cowboy cronyism.
They were wrong.
Sonné promoted his buddies, all sergeants at the time, to chiefs, even creating a new title, Undersheriff, for Terry Pfau. Deputies say they took the blame for all the department''s woes, and the division between supervisors and rank and file grew. Today special units are down and retirement plans are up.
Sonné campaigned to be a one-term sheriff, and true to his word, he isn''t running for a second term.
During Sonné''s four-year term, most things have gone from bad to worse, according to most deputies. The sheriff''s department is understaffed--currently down 53 deputies, or 20 percent, from its full force.
Deputies report that it''s hard to move up in the department without being friends with the right people. So ambitious deputies leave, attracted to low-cost housing in south county and Paso Robles, or to Salinas PD, held in high regard for its salaries and equipment, its promotion of women and minorities and its spirit of camaraderie.
Deputies say morale is low, and deep rifts abound. Scandals, like the jail incident last year where a deputy pushed an intercom button blasting racially charged dialogue from the movie Full Metal Jacket through the jail, don''t help.
All eight candidates vying for Sonné''s post say the department needs some fixes. They all call for more rank and file deputies on the streets and in the jail, as well as a big morale boost.
Roque Ugale is a former Salinas police officer who helped start up the gang unit in 1993. He wants to reinstate the sheriff''s department''s gang unit--which has been all but officially disbanded--and beef up the narcotics team.
So do his seven opponents.
But of the eight candidates on the ballot, Ugale''s the only outsider running for the $115,030 a year position. The others all work together, and three of them hold the new title of commander, formerly known as lieutenant.
They all promise change.
"To me, there''s still the ''good old boys syndrome'' [at the sheriff''s department]," says Ugale, 52, who worked in the county district attorney''s office supervising 27 investigators. "I am from the outside. They need change over there, a new direction. They need somebody who thinks outside the box, but still can think law enforcement."
Although few inside the sheriff''s department support him, Ugale believes their fragmentation demonstrates the need for his candidacy.
"Seven from the inside are running," he says. "That should tell you something. They don''t see anybody who''s running that they can trust and support."
If war chests are the key indicator, then Sheriff''s Department Commander Mike Kanalakis, 53, will probably be the next Monterey County Sheriff. He''d raised $83,141 by Jan. 24, and says he would like to raise another $50,000 by March 5 --an unheard-of amount of money for a local sheriff''s race. He''s got the ag vote and the Peninsula business vote in his coin purse, and like any smart politician, says he''ll actively court the Latino vote, walking precincts in Latino neighborhoods with bilingual campaign staff members.
"A little known fact--I am half Latino," Kanalakis says. "I consider myself to be an American first--I don''t pretend to be something I''m not--but I''m very proud my mother is Panamanian."
Kanalakis, who won''t sling mud at any of the other candidates, was the top vote-getter from the Monterey County Deputy Sheriff''s Association membership, and is likely to pull in the bulk of the patrol deputies'' votes on March 5.
Kanalakis'' campaign theme doesn''t hurt either. He''s says he wants to make sheriff''s deputies the highest paid peace officers in Monterey County.
"We need to offer the most attractive salaries and benefits," he says. "That''s the only way we can compete. I want this to be the department that everyone else wants to work for. We''re going to be the best of the best."
It''s fairly obvious that Kanalakis has spent many a long, caffeinated night planning--not only his campaign strategy, but also what he''ll do once (not "if") he''s elected.
"A year and a half researching and developing," he admits.
Out of that extended brainstorming session Kanalakis'' General Plan for the sheriff''s department was born--a 20-year vision, meshing with the county''s General Plan, that provides a long-term staffing analysis and an overhaul of the department''s budgeting system.
The Chosen One
Some deputies and candidates alike say this race has mostly been a spitting match from the get-go between Kanalakis and Lonnie Heffington, 52, both veterans and supervisors in the department.
Born in a farmhouse near Chular, the son of a tractor driver, Heffington grew up on farms in the Salinas Valley. He''s received support from Salinas city residents, as well as local farmers and growers. He''s also been endorsed by Sonné and three-term sheriff Bud Cook, which is sure to be a plus come election day.
"I am by a considerable margin the most qualified person for the job," Heffington says. "I have 22 and a half years experience at the management level or higher, and I am the only one in the department who has administrative experience."
He points out that he was promoted to chief deputy of the corrections bureau by Sheriff Bud Cook, and then again by Sheriff Norm Hicks. He''s less forthcoming about how he was subsequently demoted to lieutenant twice, most recently after Sonné was elected.
"Two and a half years ago he fired him from the jail, but now he''s capable of being sheriff?" asks candidate Jim Cronin, who commands the detective division.
There have been rumors about a backroom deal promising the Sonné administration''s support for Heffington''s candidacy in exchange for an undersheriff post for Robert Perez, a high-ranking administrator. Perez would, in turn, run the department with an iron hand while Heffington relaxes in his shiny, new Ford. Or so the story goes.
Heffington demurs. "Robert Perez is a very capable individual. At this point, he has told me he plans to retire."
The Straight Shooter
"The classic way that you run for sheriff is to hint or promise jobs to a dozen or so people and then pick who you want later," says Jim Cronin, 53.
A 25-year department veteran, Cronin is the third of three commanders running for the post. He''s got a solid support base in South County, and is likely to be one of the front runners in the primary election.
Like all of the candidates, Cronin says the department is broken and he promises to fix it.
"The last few years, it hasn''t been fun anymore," he says. "We''ve had management problems, and it''s not just Gordon [Sonné], although it''s gotten substantially worse under this administration. Things have gone downhill morale-wise quite a bit since then."
He says the problem stems from a lack of communication between leadership and deputies, and a lack of autonomy within the substations, located in Monterey and King City.
"It''s a big county, and the sheriff needs to set the tone for the department," he says, "but the individual stations do need their own autonomy."
Cronin points to his five years heading up the King City substation as an example of good leadership.
"When I took over King City, over half the deputies had transfers pending to move from the station," he says. "When I left, there was a waiting list to come to the station. That''s the kind of leadership we need for the rest of the department."
The Wild Card
Depending on who you talk to, sheriff''s detective Steve Viegas, 47, either is or isn''t mightily playing the race card.
In ''95, Viegas received $100,000 to settle a complaint alleging discrimination.
"I was passed over six times for the position of DA investigator by one of our opponents who is not in the department." (He''s subtly referring to Ugale.)
Ugale says per the judge''s decision he can''t talk about the settlement, but adds, "I''m not the one who makes the hiring determinations--the DA makes the ultimate hire." He also says that based on his suggestions, the district attorney has doubled the number of minority investigators and hired six women.
Viegas insists he''d not running on his race.
"I have never, ever in my campaign used my race," he says adding that though he is Hispanic, he does not consider it an asset.
Viegas is also the jail-house darling. He started his career in corrections and remembers his roots. He understands that corrections deputies want a leader who visits the jail and acknowledges that they are every bit as capable--and deserving of new equipment--as their counterparts on the streets.
"Now, there''s no more than three and sometimes only two deputies watching over 300 inmates," he says. "If anyone ever wanted to take over the jail, you know they could."
He says he''ll also put more deputies on the streets and in specialty units such as gangs and narcotics.
"We''re top heavy on administrative positions," he says. "We''ve got a lot of supervisors in the department, but there''s not a lot of crime rolling down the halls of the sheriff''s department. We need deputies."
Mr. Unpopularity and What''s-His-Name
Terry Kaiser, 55, an investigative staff sergeant, knows he won''t win any popularity contests with his campaign rhetoric.
"We''re not addressing the drug issue, the gangs have gotten out of hand, and we''ve got a sheriff who can''t be found. In the last three years [the Sonné administration] has put more emphasis on what their retirement benefits are going to be than on meeting the needs of the public."
Kaiser willingly rocks the boat and says he won''t stand for any internal back-stabbing or double standards. He also says he won''t scratch any backs to get elected.
"I''m not winning a popularity contest with the troops down there," he admits. "I''m not running to jack your salaries up. I''ve been here 32 years and I have never seen the County''s money tree.
"I get tired of hearing deputies say they can''t afford to live here in this county--that''s BS," Kaiser continues. He advocates less overtime (and less overtime pay), and says things like, "get your asses out of the car and start serving the public."
"My loyalty is not to the department. My loyalty is to the taxpayers. I plan on running two terms, and win or lose, I''m going to be a thorn in somebody''s side."
Not surprisingly, Kaiser picked up only six votes from the Sheriff''s association membership. Sgt. James Scariot, 50, was the only candidate to receive less, with five votes.
"I''ve been involved with community service since I was 15 years old," says Scariot, who calls himself a coach and a mentor within the department. "If the community is seeing my involvement, why aren''t the deputies?"
None of the Above
Deputy Stephen Shapiro lands on the opposite end of the spectrum from Kanalakis. The 50-year-old corrections deputy isn''t asking for any money.
"I look at the thousands of dollars these guys have, and I''m sure that there are a lot better things that people can donate their money to, breast cancer research, medical issues."
He made his own leaflets, and he''s only hanging one Shapiro for Sheriff sign--in front of his Salinas home.
While Shapiro''s opponents point out his low rank and lack of supervisorial experience in the department, Shapiro prefers to call it "not being politically or administratively contaminated.
"The way I look at it, for the last 13 years, I''ve been supervising 400-plus inmates," he says. "And all these guys who have experience, like Kanalakis and Heffington, I don''t know whether they should be bragging about it or not. I don''t know if I would be bragging that I was a commander for 22 years. What else have you done for us? The good ''ole boys have been there for 22 years."